Just as Netflix’s new show about a nearly 70-year-long lesbian partnership premiered, Cincinnati’s Archbishop Dennis Schnurr issued a statement explaining his decision to not renew the contract of a “highly valued teacher” at a local Catholic high school because the teacher is in a same-gender marriage.
National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson reflected on the tension between the timing of A Secret Love, the Netflix documentary that affirms queer partnerships, and the Catholic Church’s exclusion of queer people in the workplace and in marriage.
Although the archbishop avoided mentioning the teacher’s marital status, Manson reported what others have made public: that this teacher was fired because “he is in a same-sex marriage.” The archbishop’s rebuttals focused on every individual’s “inherent dignity,” but made anti-LGBTQ discrimination explicit:
“Behaviors that are not regrettable mistakes but are rather confirmed life choices contrary to Catholic teaching cannot be offered to young people as a witness to the faith, no matter the many other outstanding attributes a person may possess.”
The archbishop’s letter is only one example of the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face in Catholic workplaces. Manson’s witness of the television show alongside the publication of the archbishop’s letter inspired her to further contemplate on what makes the sacrament of marriage holy. She asked:
“How does the light of the Gospel shine when good people are ripped away from their livelihoods and the jobs that they love because of who they love? What is Christlike about forcing employees to live in fear and loneliness and deny themselves the spiritual and legal benefits of marriage?”
Manson opined that while many parishes “welcome” LGBTQ+ people, the ban from the sacrament of marriage will always exclude these people from full life in the church. She points out that this restriction teaches that queer “love is fundamentally invalid and incapable of the goodness and holiness of a heterosexual union. Our relationships are so defective that God cannot possibly be present in them.”
Yet, A Secret Love shares a story which disproves the idea that God is not present in such couples. Manson explains that the film showcases a lesbian couple, Terry and Pat, who exhibit “profound love and enduring devotion to one another. It also shows the sacrifices they made to stay together, including putting off marriage out of fear that some family members might reject them.” Manson questions how Church hierarchs “could possibly deny the sacramental nature of relationships like that of Terry and Pat.”
Manson questions why the church “equates procreation with flourishing” as a sign of the sacramentality of a relationship. She argues:
“How many straight folks do you know that got pregnant but were not ‘fruitful’ in any other way? And how many same-sex couples do you know whose relationship helped them flourish as individuals and as a couple?”
Manson comments that “Terry and Pat’s relationship is sacramental in every sense.” While they may not be able to be wed in the Church, Manson believes:
“[They] brought new life into the world by caring for one another, nourishing other relationships, working to mend our broken world, and being an image of faithfulness to their community. They are signs of the power of forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love, and they make sacrifices for one another that incarnate the selfless love to which the Gospel calls us.”
If the church wants to truly welcome LGTBQ+ people, work must be done to protect our rights in the workplace and in the sacraments. Re-examining the foundational teaching of procreation as it applies to marriage is a first step.
—Emily Win, May 19, 2020